Going Viral

We were so blessed to have the amazing Erin Fortney Photography capture the birth of our twins because it has made me feel like I was more involved and actually present in the room after delivery.

One of the photos she posted garnered a great deal of attention, to all of our surprise:

We love the photo and what it represents, but we didn’t expect what happened next. We were amazed to be contacted by so many reporters regarding our story and it went viral.

They were enamored with Brennan’s persistence in doing skin-to-skin in the O.R. (which to us is interesting because it wasn’t a question in our minds that he should have that experience with the boys, as well) and we definitely talked about that, but we also recognized the potential for Krabbe awareness and made sure they focused on Tori and her story, as well as Newborn Screening. THIS is our true passion in life!

Here’s the current list of publications that have written about us:

Babble: https://www.babble.com/parenting/skin-to-skin-dad-twins-photo/

Motherly: https://www.mother.ly/news/viral-pictures-show-dad-doing-skin-to-skin-with-his-twin-babies-for-a-very-good-reason

Love What Matters: http://www.lovewhatmatters.com/six-weeks-later-she-was-handed-a-death-sentence-how-dads-amazing-skin-to-skin-contact-with-twins-helps-heal-family-after-devastating-loss/

Birth Becomes Her: https://www.facebook.com/56901132/posts/10100975465821040/

CafeMom: https://thestir.cafemom.com/parenting_news/212461/dad-skin-to-skin-rainbow-twins

People: https://people.com/human-interest/brennan-brackbill-skin-twin-sons-death-toddler/

The Epoch Times: https://m.theepochtimes.com/uplift/father-gives-his-newborn-twins-a-shirtless-hug-right-after-theyre-born_2544565.html

The Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5849873/Pictures-father-cuddling-newborn-twins-skin-skin-delivery-room.html

Huge thanks to Erin Fortney for this image and for the write-up on Birth Becomes Her that started it all ❤ :

Dad had requested skin-to-skin in the OR from the moment that he stepped foot in the hospital… he must have mentioned it a dozen times.

He + his wife were preparing to welcome twins in to the world after losing their first-born to Krabbe Leukodystrophy at the young age of 20 months.

Staff told him that it would be tough since he would have two babies and needed to be in a scrub suit over his clothes … So he promptly and without question explained that he had a large arm-span that was ready and waiting to hold his two boys and then took his shirt off and zipped up his scrubs announcing, ‘well then.. problem solved!’

This nurse made sure to advocate for him to all 24 other people in the OR that day — and personally made sure that his request was fulfilled.  – Erin Fortney

It Is Well

I have served as the worship leader at Transcend Church for a little over three months now. While I have led worship almost continually over the past 22 years in some capacity, this is the first time I have been “the leader” of a worship team instead of me just playing guitar and singing. This has certainly been a growing experience for me and I am so thankful for the members of the worship team and their talents and hearts for worship.

Few are aware of what goes into choosing a worship set – it’s far more than just picking songs you like. I typically read the Scripture for the upcoming sermon and prayerfully choose songs that go along with the sermon. Yet, sometimes it’s honestly just following the Holy Spirit’s guidance and how I “feel” about a particular song fitting in with the set.

This week was definitely a “feel” week as the passage did not easily lend itself to songs. While I was doing all of this, I considered that this Sunday was Mother’s Day but didn’t give it much thought.

As I leafed through my (gigantic) binder of music, a few jumped out at me, unrelated in theme at first glance – “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” would start the morning as a great reminder that God is trustworthy, merciful, and faithful. We’d do “Even Unto Death” and “Give Me Faith” to remind ourselves that the God we serve is worthy to be followed and trusted, no matter what. I chose a few other songs to fill in the set and thought I was done.

I grabbed my guitar and began playing through the set but it still didn’t feel complete. Later that afternoon the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” – one of my favorites – came into my head and I knew that was what was missing. In addition, I decided to add Bethel’s song “It Is Well” to the end.

If you aren’t aware, the back story to the song “It Is Well” is one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard. Mr. Spafford lost his four daughters in a shipwreck, all at once. Four daughters. And yet, he penned the words to this poem (now song) and declared that it was well with his soul.

How can that be?

I contend that…

It can be well with your soul despite your grief. 

It can be well with your soul despite your circumstances. 

It can be well with your soul despite your questions and uncertainties of God’s actions. 

This can all be true because it isn’t dependent on you – it’s dependent on God. When you believe the truth of who God is (faithful, loving, merciful, kind, generous, good), when you believe His Word and His promises (there IS life after death for those who trust in Jesus!), and when you trust Him fully, there is peace within your soul that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:7). We’ve lived it. We know this is true.

img_6662

We have a beautiful sign in our home that quotes this hymn, and it has been a great reminder to us as we’ve learned to live without Tori here on earth. We’ve truly learned that “whatever our lot” we can be at peace when we are trusting the Lord and following Him.


As I led worship this morning, the emotion of missing Tori began to well up inside as we sang the final verse of the hymn:

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul!

The emotion was two-fold: first, remembering the tragic circumstances that brought this song into this world and how deep the pain is when you lose a child; second, I long for this day – the day when Jesus returns and we are reunited with our precious Tori (and other loved ones who have gone before us). I cannot wait for that day and for the eternity with her that will follow.

I got through the song, but as the sermon began my eyes were teary as I pondered the joyous reunion that awaits us.


As the Bethel song by the same name says,

Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you.
Through it all, through it all, it is well.
So let go, my soul, and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name.

The same Jesus who calmed the storm that threatened to wreck the ship He and His disciples were on is the same Jesus who lives today and loves us deeply. He is still in control, even when we can’t feel it.

Being well in your soul doesn’t mean that things are perfect, or that you pretend to not be in pain. It simply means that you trust Jesus more than you fear your circumstances.

Yes, my Tori is gone. Yes, my heart longs for her. Even so, it is well with my soul. 

img_6988-1


I don’t know why I was led to put the songs on the set list today that I did, but I know that, if nothing else, my own heart was encouraged by the words of these songs. Hopefully the Lord used them to speak to others, as well.

Book Review: You Carried Me

book cover for You Carried MeWhen I was given the opportunity to review this book, I jumped at the chance, and I’m so glad that I did.

You Carried Me by Melissa Ohden is the incredible story of an abortion survivor and her quest to find answers. She learned about her almost-tragic beginning from her adoptive family and she writes openly and honestly about how she processed this information and how she has used it to encourage other women along the way.

You can see an interview with her here.

I read the entire book in one sitting because I was so drawn in and touched by her life. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy and read it – AND, share it with someone who might need the encouragement that this book provides.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher; all opinions are my own.

NBS Advisory Board Meeting, August 23, 2016

Today I attended the quarterly meeting of the Newborn Screening Advisory Panel of Pennsylvania as I did in April and will continue to do until Krabbe is on the mandatory screening panel (and maybe even after that, but we’ll see).

You can read about the April meeting – and some background about the purpose of the Advisory Panel – here.

You can read about the meeting with the Physician General in June here.

This meeting was uneventful compared to April and Krabbe wasn’t even on the agenda for discussion. Dr. Levine, the Physician General of Pennsylvania, was in attendance for the beginning of the meeting and her presence seems to have had an effect on the panel given the tone of the discussion. 🙂

Positives:

  • Testing for X-ALD will begin on April 1, 2017 and testing for MPS-I will begin on January 1, 2017. Both of these are lysosomal storage disorders (LSDs) just like Krabbe. There are funding issues being worked out at the moment, but the panel is hopeful that these implementation dates will remain in place.
  • Testing for Pompe has been in place for six months; they have already identified eight positive cases.
  • The panel will be submitting a “Program Revision Request” to fund these two new tests AND will include the future of NBS in the proposal as more diseases (Krabbe?!) will be added in the future.
  • The Department of Health has created a new brochure about Newborn Screening to better educate new moms and dads about what is available in Pennsylvania and how it works. It will be visible on their website in a couple of weeks.
  • The panel is hoping to merge the two panel system that currently exists in Pennsylvania, which would make ALL of the testing mandatory and not optional for each hospital (meaning that all babies would finally be screened equally and your zip code won’t determine life or death!). Currently, only seven diseases are mandated in Pennsylvania; the rest, including Krabbe, are on a “follow-up” panel and each hospital chooses which diseases from that list will be included on their screenings. Ridiculous, I know. Thankfully, they all see that it’s ridiculous, as well.

Since Krabbe wasn’t mentioned in the first half, I made a point to talk to a few specific people during lunch to find out what I wanted to know:

  • According to PerkinElmer – the lab through which all of the testing is done – Hershey Medical Center is STILL the only hospital in the entire state testing every baby for Krabbe and for the other five lysosomal storage disorders (LSDs) in Hannah’s Law (Act 148 of 2014).
  • I verified YET AGAIN that if a mother asks for her child to be screened for Krabbe in a Pennsylvania hospital (or birthing center), the hospital has to do it.
  • PerkinElmer said that only a handful of requests for Krabbe testing have come through, which shows a great need for education until the testing is mandatory.

During the “public comment” section at the end of the meeting, I was able to address the issue of hospitals telling their patients that their babies were being screened for Krabbe automatically, and the panel was genuinely alarmed that this is happening. This launched a discussion about how they can improve the communication and education because it’s a serious problem and is also opening up hospitals (and the state) to law suits.

ONLY Penn State Hershey Medical Center is automatically testing for Krabbe in Pennsylvania, BUT, if you ask your hospital then they have to screen your newborn for Krabbe. Ask to speak to the Newborn Screening Coordinator at the hospital as they should be aware of this. If not, make them aware 😉

We found out that they are going to give the new brochure about NBS to the moms after birth along with everything else they give them, and Ashley (from Rep. Cruz’s office) and I both remarked that there has to be a better time, perhaps during prenatal appointments? Neither of us remember much of anything after our babies were born. That is NOT the time to give the mom a stack of papers, with this brochure included, and expect them to read and make these important screening decisions! The men agreed after we brought it up 🙂

In regards to Krabbe specifically: I asked Dr. Vockley if the conversation he had with Dr. Kurtzberg in July had affected anything (they spoke about her research and she schooled him, basically); he stated that until something is published, nothing will change. We know that Dr. Kurtzberg has submitted data for publishing, so now we just wait. Once that data comes out, it sounds like having Krabbe moved to the Mandatory Panel could happen quickly. Maybe.

Afterward, Rep. Cruz’s staff (Ashley and Rachel) and I spoke with Dr. Vockley for quite a while regarding Krabbe and Newborn Screening, and, overall, he was FAR more positive (and respectful) this time than he was three months ago. I believe that his conversation with Dr. Kurtzberg has shown him that there is MERIT in screening for Krabbe at birth; that the transplants are successful; that it’s WORTH IT.

He mentioned again the lack of data about the success of NBS and transplants for Krabbe; so, I pointed out to him that since only FOUR states are screening, it’s no wonder that we have no data! If you aren’t screening at birth, you aren’t catching it early enough to transplant, therefore, no data. He surprisingly agreed with me. I then added that, since Pennsylvania has such a high rate of leukodystrophies, WE could be the state providing that data and making headway in research. And he agreed with me there, too!

In summary, there have been no changes, no possible implementation dates, BUT, overall the attitude toward NBS screening HAS seemingly changed, and we feel hopeful that it won’t be long before every single baby in Pennsylvania is given a chance at life because of NBS.

If you read all of this, thank you. 🙂 Please spread the word to other Pennsylvanians so that every new mom is aware of the options for Newborn Screening! No matter what state you live in, you can write letters to your legislators HERE and let them know that this is important to you!

September is Krabbe/Leukodystrophy Awareness Month AND Newborn Screening Awareness Month. Let’s do our part to educate!

 

My Third Mother’s Day

I have never been one to embrace or become attached to holidays like Valentine’s Day or the other “Hallmark Holidays” like Mother’s Day, primarily because I have been taught to celebrate these things daily, not once every year.

Even though I’ve been a mother the past three years (pregnant, present, absent), it’s just another day to me. I’m also a rebel and don’t like being told what to do. 😉 But mostly it’s because I love cherishing the family I have been given continually and not just because we are told to do so by “someone.”

I’ve also been taught to not focus on what you are lacking, but rather to focus on what you have, to appreciate all that you have been given and not dwell on what has been taken away. Paul phrased it as “being content” no matter the circumstances (Phil. 4:11).

So, while this is probably supposed to be a sad day for me because my Tori is in Heaven and not in my arms, it truly isn’t. ❤

As I have mentioned many times before, the discipline of gratitude has had a profound impact on my life. When you make a point to be grateful for things and to name those things out loud (or in writing), it is much more difficult to be negative and sad. God is always at work in our lives and recognizing His hand makes life abundantly joyful, even in the midst of heartache.

So, today – as always – I focus on my blessings:

I am SO thankful to have been chosen to be Tori’s mama and to have had those beautiful twenty months with her. Those beautiful and wise eyes of hers spoke volumes when her mouth couldn’t: I know she loved me and I know she knew she was loved.

Her existence taught me so much and her brief presence on earth has made me such a better person. I am more loving, more patient, more gracious, more kind, more GRATEFUL, more selfless, more like Jesus (which should be every believer’s goal). She was a miracle child in so many ways, and I’m so grateful.

I will always be Tori’s mama! I pray that the changes I see in myself because of her are not only temporary but rather that they continue to change me to be more like Jesus.

I’m thankful to be here in California with my mother and my grandmothers today to celebrate them in person. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for these women, for their example and training, for their love. They taught me to be a mother by living it out so well in their own lives with my parents.

These three women – Pat, Ruth, and DeAnne – loved me enough to discipline me and teach me while I was young because they knew that it was vitally important for my well-being. They also taught me valuable skills and I can never repay them for all they have done for me, except by carrying on this tradition of selfless love with my own children.

My mom, in particular, showed me what selfless love looked like over and over again during Tori’s earthly life. She spent weeks with us, helping doing things around the house, cooking meals, and, of course, cuddling with Tori. She has always put other before herself and is such an example to all. She continued to do what she could from across the country to make our lives a little easier even though she couldn’t be physically present every day.

She is an amazing grandmother and I hope that she will have the honor of being a grandmother again someday.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my heritage and the examples of motherhood in my life. I wouldn’t be the mother I was to Tori if it weren’t for these women. ❤ It’s a day of joy, not of sorrow, and we will continue to focus on what we have been given.

 

Exploring Red Bluff

It’s amazing how you can take your hometown for granted, how you can completely miss the beauty of where you live simply because you see it all the time.

When I lived here I didn’t always appreciate the subtle things that make our area beautiful. The huge mountains are obvious and I love those, but there are so many things I appreciate now more with each visit.

One thing I love about Red Bluff is the abundance of oak trees. I went out today in search of a single oak tree in a field to photograph. I drove around for two hours and never found exactly what I was hoping to find, but I found some beautiful areas in the meantime. Here are some photos from my phone and my camera.

Continually look for the beauty all around you. God’s creation is diverse and amazing – there’s always beauty to be found.

 

No Regrets

  
Tori has been in Heaven for twenty-six hours now, and while we miss her deeply, I cannot express the peace that I feel.

I have often pondered over the past fourteen months whether it is “better” (as if there is any good way) to lose a child suddenly or over time. 

To lose one suddenly and unexpectedly means that they usually don’t suffer and it is quick, but you don’t always get to say goodbye. 

To lose one over time, as we did, means that you watch them deteriorate and you grieve for an undetermined period of time. But, you can cherish each moment and make purposeful memories with them, grieving along the way.

I now know that the way we lost Tori is the “better” way. 

We have no regrets about how we lived out her life. We knew we only had her for a short time on this earth and we treasured every moment. 

Yes, we loved our adventures with her and loved checking off Bucket List items; but, what we loved most of all was that we spent hundreds – maybe thousands – of hours holding her, cuddling with her, loving her. It was our favorite thing to do.

We chose joy – and continue to do so – and when she left this earth yesterday we were somewhat ready (is any parent ever fully ready? No.). 

We feel immense peace that is from the Lord alone.

We will absolutely go through the grieving process again, but I think (probably wrongly) it will be a little easier this time (as opposed to the past fourteen months of our lives) because we know she is healed. She is happy. She is in the best possible place and is with Jesus. 

We cannot express how stressful the past few months have been at times, as caring for her became increasingly intense and she began having “episodes” of turning slightly blue on occasion. Overall she was doing well still, but there were moments of panic in the last month.

It is going to take months to recover from the level of stress we have lived on.

We thought Tori was going to live longer, but we are so thankful that she didn’t suffer. She was never sick! She never had seizures. She was only hospitalized one time. She was so fortunate in so many ways and we know that God protected her.

God is great, faithful, gracious, and loving. We trust His plan and can’t wait to see how He continues to use Tori.

We are so thankful that God gave Victoria to us and we know that she will continue to change lives. ❤️